US 7606632 B2
The invention is a method and apparatus for dispensing an activated electronic monitoring device (EM device), such as a data logger. The invention can activate an EM device and verify activation before dispensing the EM device. The invention comprises a receptacle for storing a plurality of unactivated EM devices, a separator for separating an indivdual EM device, a reader for activating and verifying activation of the EM device, and a sorter for dispensing activated EM devices into an accept container that is readily accessible. EM devices that fail to activate can be dispensed into a reject container. In some embodiments, the apparatus includes a controller that typically comprises a microprocessor having stored instructions. The controller can typically communicate with the EM device via the reader to activate the EM device and verify activation. The controller may also be used to program or write instructions to the EM device.
1. An apparatus for dispensing and activating electronic monitoring devices comprising:
a) a receptacle capable of storing a supply of unactivated electronic monitoring devices, wherein the electronic monitoring devices comprise a plurality of individual cards disposed on a continuous roll;
b) a separator cooperating with said receptacle for removing respective individual monitoring devices from the receptacle, said separator comprising a cutting mechanism and a moveable carriage assembly that cooperate to remove an individual card from the roll;
c) an activator cooperating with said separator and configured to communicate an activation signal to an individual monitoring device removed from the receptacle by the separator;
d) a verifier configured to communicate with the individual monitoring device subsequent to the activation signal to obtain a verification signal confirming that the individual monitoring device has been activated; and
e) a dispenser cooperating with said verifier and operable for dispensing the individual monitoring device after receipt of a verification signal confirming that the individual monitoring device has been activated.
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The invention relates generally to electronic monitoring devices, and more particularly to an apparatus for activating and dispensing an electronic monitoring device.
Electronic monitoring devices are used in a wide range of applications to record and monitor various conditions and events. Monitoring conditions, such as temperature, is important in many industries involving products that are sensitive to specific conditions. In particular, electronic monitoring devices have found increasing use in the food industry to record and monitor conditions under which items such as perishable goods have been shipped and/or stored.
Data loggers are portable electronic monitoring devices that can record measurements such as temperature, relative humidity, light intensity, on/off, open/closed, voltage, pressure, and events over time. Typically, data loggers are small, battery-powered devices that are equipped with a microprocessor, data storage and sensor. Data loggers may be programmed to take specific measurements at desired time intervals.
Data loggers are typically activated or programmed by connecting them to a computer that can be used to send and retrieve data to and from the data logger. Data loggers can also be activated by manual operation, such as a switch or push button. After the data logger has been activated it is usually positioned or deployed in a desired location for data gathering. The logger records each measurement and stores it in memory. The loggers can typically also record the date and time at which the measurement was taken. At a desired time, the data contained within the data logger is retrieved by reconnecting the data logger to a computer or similar device.
Data loggers may also employ radio frequency identification (RFID) communication protocols to activate, program, and send or retrieve data to and from the data logger. The use of RFID technology in electronic monitoring devices allows the devices to be quickly activated for immediate use. For instance, an RFID reader in communication with a computer can be used to activate and program data loggers at a point of shipping or packaging. Alternatively, data loggers can be programmed in batch and stored adjacent to a shipping station for subsequent manual activation. The data loggers can then be manually activated at a later time for immediate deployment.
In some instances data loggers may be defective, fail to properly activate, or be improperly activated (e.g., incorrect temperature limit settings or time interval for data logging). The failure of a data logger to properly activate may not be readily apparent, and in some circumstances, may not be discovered until after the data logger has already been deployed. As a result, the unactivated, improperly activated, or defective data logger will fail to measure and record the desired readings in the desired manner.
The invention is a method and apparatus that activates electronic monitoring devices, and then dispenses the electronic monitoring device only after receiving verification that the electronic monitoring device has been activated. As a result, the use of unactivated or improperly activated electronic monitoring devices can be reduced. The apparatus can rapidly and efficiently activate multiple electronic monitoring devices in sequence. Additionally, the apparatus is capable of verifying that each individual electronic monitoring device has been activated. Electronic monitoring devices that are successfully activated can be dispensed for subsequent use. In some embodiments, electronic monitoring devices that fail to activate can be dispensed into a reject container that may or may not be readily accessible. The method and apparatus can be used to quickly activate and dispense activated electronic monitoring devices. As a result, the deployment and use of unactivated, improperly activated, or defective electronic monitoring devices may be reduced or prevented.
The invention comprises a separator that can remove an individual unactivated electronic monitoring device (EM device) from a receptacle that is adapted for storing multiple EM devices. The separator cooperates with a reader for positioning the EM device in communication with a reader. The reader may be used to send an activation signal, optionally including activation instructions such as temperature limit values or time interval for data logging, and an activation verification query to the EM device. After a successful activation, the EM device can communicate with the reader to indicate that it has been successfully activated. Activated EM devices can then be dispensed into a container for subsequent retrieval and use. The apparatus typically includes a sorter that dispenses activated EM devices into an accept container, and EM devices that fail to activate into a reject container.
The apparatus may also include a controller or microprocessor that integrates and controls operation of the apparatus. Typically, the controller may be operatively connected and in communication with the separator, sorter, and reader. In some embodiments, the controller may also include stored instructions that are communicated to an EM device via the reader. The instructions can include, for example, activation commands, verification queries, information about products being monitored, acceptable temperature limits, time intervals for data logging, and the like. The controller may also be used to receive data from an EM device that can be stored or processed by the controller.
The invention may also be used for activating electronic monitoring devices that comprise a radio frequency identification (RFID) communication interface. In embodiments comprising RFID or other wireless communication protocols, the reader and EM device can be in wireless communication. Data loggers are electronic monitoring devices that are particularly useful in the practice of the invention. Data loggers can be used to monitor a wide variety of environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and shock/vibration.
Thus, among other things, the invention provides a method and apparatus that may be used to activate, confirm activation, and dispense activated EM devices into an accept container. As a result, the use of unactivated, improperly activated, or defective electronic monitoring devices can be reduced or prevented.
Having thus described the invention in general terms, reference will now be made to the accompanying drawings, which are not necessarily drawn to scale, and wherein:
The present invention now will be described more fully hereinafter with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which some, but not all embodiments of the invention are shown. Indeed, the invention may be embodied in many different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein; rather, these embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will satisfy applicable legal requirements. Like numbers refer to like elements throughout.
The invention is a method and apparatus that are useful for activating and dispensing an electronic monitoring device. The apparatus and method can be used to separate an individual electronic monitoring device from a plurality of such devices, activate the electronic monitoring device, verify that the electronic monitoring device is active, and dispense the activated monitoring device into a container where it can be retrieved for subsequent use. The apparatus and method separate activated electronic monitoring devices from devices that fail to activate. As a result, the use of defective or non-activated electronic monitoring devices can be reduced or substantially prevented.
Electronic monitoring devices that are useful in the invention may include small portable electronic devices, such as data loggers, that can be programmed to collect and record specific measurements. The electronic monitoring devices (EM devices) are typically battery powered and comprise a microprocessor, instruments for taking measurements, and recordable medium for storing data. Typical measurements include, for example, temperature, relative humidity, light intensity, on/off, open/closed, voltage, pressure, and events over time. In some embodiments, the EM devices can be about the size and shape of a conventional “credit card.” EM devices in the shape of a “card” may be conveniently stacked and stored for subsequent use. Additionally, “card” shaped EM devices can be deployed in a wide variety of applications where a compact size is desirable.
In some embodiments, the EM device may also include input/output (I/O) terminals for communication with a reader. The EM device may also include a radio frequency (RF) transceiver that can be used to wirelessly activate the EM device, and to send and receive data between the EM device and a reader. Electronic monitoring devices having a RF transceiver also include an antenna for wirelessly communicating with the reader. EM devices that are useful in the invention can monitor and record a wide variety of conditions including, but not limited to, temperature, humidity, pressure, on/off cycles, and the like. The EM device may also include a radio frequency identification (RFID) communication interface that can activate and communicate with the EM device. Card size data loggers employing an RFID communication interface are useful in the practice of the invention.
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The individual unactivated EM devices may be sequentially positioned in communication with a reader at step 30 so that each EM device can be individually activated. At step 30, the reader communicates with each individual EM device to activate the EM device. In step 40, the reader or a separate device communicates with the EM device to verify activation. In some embodiments, a single reader is adapted to communicate both the activation signal and verification request. In other embodiments, the activation and verification requests may be performed at two separate stations. In this embodiment, the separate activation station and verification station could be in close proximity to each other so that the separator does not have to reposition the EM device to perform both activation and verification. Alternatively, the separator could first position the EM device in communication with a reader for activation, and then reposition the EM device into communication with a reader adapted for verifying activation.
Typically, the activation signal, and any necessary instructions, are communicated to the EM device before the verification request, but it should be recognized that the activation signal and verification request could be communicated simultaneously. The verification request is typically a program module that requests that the EM device communicates a verification signal indicating that it has been activated. Additionally, the reader may be used to program or write information to the EM device. The information can include, but is not limited to, identification information, time-date setting, programming for performing monitoring, and the like. In some embodiments, the EM device may include a unique identification code that can be communicated to the reader for storage and future reference.
Upon completion of activation and verification, the EM device is typically moved to a sorter where activated EM devices can be dispensed at step 50. The sorter can dispense the EM device into an operator accessible container if the reader receives a verification signal from the EM device. In some embodiments, EM devices that fail to activate can be dispensed into a separate container that may or may not be accessible.
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The separator 120 removes an individual EM device 210 from a receptacle that is capable of storing a plurality of unactivated electronic monitoring devices. The separator 130 cooperates with the reader 130 to position an unactivated EM device 210 into communication with the reader. The receptacle can typically receive and store multiple unactivated EM devices in a wide variety of storage arrangements. For example, the EM devices can be stored in a vertical or horizontal stack. The EM devices may also be disposed on a continuous roll of EM devices.
In some embodiments, the reader 130 comprises an activator device and a verifier device that are configured to activate an EM device 210 and to verify that the EM device has been activated. The activator device and the verifier device may comprise a single integrated reader. In alternate embodiments, the activator and verifier can comprise two separate devices. In embodiments where the EM device includes a RFID tag, the reader will typically include a radio frequency (RF) transceiver (transmitter and receiver) for wireless communication with an EM device. In alternate embodiments, the reader may include I/O terminals for wired communication with the EM device.
If verification is received that the EM device has been activated (see reference number 142), the sorter 140 can dispense the activated EM device into an accept container 150 for subsequent use. In alternative embodiments, the system may also include a container 160 that is adapted for receiving unactivated or defective EM devices. In the event the reader fails to receive activation verification, the sorter 140 can dispense the uncativated EMD into a reject container 160. The reject container can be fully accessible or, alternatively, it can be in a screened position to prevent an unactivated EM device from being inadvertently deployed.
In some embodiments, the apparatus includes a controller, processor, computer, or the like 110. The controller 110 may control and integrate the operation of the apparatus 100. As shown in
As described above, the controller can be used to communicate programming and other information to the EM device. The controller 110 typically comprises a stored set of instructions that may be communicated to the apparatus and the EM device. The instructions can include activation modules for communicating an activation signal to the EM device via the reader, and verification modules for communicating a verification query to the EM device via the reader and for receiving a verification signal from the EM device via the reader. Additionally, the controller 110 may also be in communication with a computer or data base for sending and receiving data to and from the controller. In this embodiment, the controller can be updated to comprise new activation and verification modules, and new programming and instructions.
In alternate embodiments, the controller 110 may be an external computer that is operatively connected and in communication with the apparatus 100. The computer, similar to the controller described above, may control the apparatus and send and receive data to and from the reader. The external computer can be in wired or wireless communication with the apparatus.
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The receptacle 220 can be in the form of a hopper having side walls adapted for stackably receiving a plurality of EM devices. With reference to
Preferably the receptacle 220 is constructed of a clear plastic to assist the operator of the dispenser 200 in visually inspecting the number of EM devices 210 contained in the stacker.
Although a clear plastic is preferred, the receptacle 220 may be made of metal, and whether made of metal or plastic may have suitable holes or slots to provide both physical and visual access to the cards therein. Although not illustrated, it should be recognized that the receptacle 220 can include four side walls for stackably receiving a plurality of EM devices.
The separator 230 typically comprises a moveable carriage assembly having a pusher 232 and a reading platform 234. The pusher 232 is adapted for removing an individual EM device from the receptacle 220. The reading platform is adapted for cooperating with the reader 226 to position the EM device in communication with the reader. The carriage assembly 230 can move from a retracted position to an extended position. In the retracted position, the carriage assembly 230 is retracted into the housing 205. In this regard,
Continued movement of carriage assembly 230 into an extended position will cause EM device 210 to move from a first position on surface 236 and to be repositioned in a second position on reading platform 234 that may be in communication with the reader 226.
While in communication, the reader may communicate to activate the EM device. In a subsequent or simultaneous step, the reader may send a verification command or query to the EM device to confirm that the EM device has been activated. Additionally, as described above, the reader in some embodiments may also program or write instructions to the EM device. Once the activation and verification steps have been completed, the carriage assembly may return to a retracted position.
The dispenser may also include a sorter 240 adapted for dispensing activated EM devices. In one embodiment, the sorter comprises a deflector or similar mechanism that dispenses an activated EM device into an appropriate container. In this regard,
In some embodiments, the reject container 250 is not readily or normally accessible to an operator. In this regard,
In an alternative embodiment, the EM devices can be supplied in the form of a continuous roll. In this regard
The apparatus 200′ can include a mounting bracket or support 280 that is fixed or secured to the housing 205′. The roll may have a core 264 through which support 280 may be insertably disposed. The apparatus 200′ may also comprise a dividing mechanism 270 that cooperates with the carriage assembly 230 for separating each successive EM device from the roll. The apparatus 200′ may also include a drive system for sequentially positioning an individual EM device in a cutting relationship with the cutting mechanism 270. A motor (not illustrated) can sequentially drive each EM device forward onto the carriage assembly 230 to a predetermined location where the dividing mechanism 270 can separate the EM device. Arrow 272 illustrates a possible cutting action that is performed by the dividing mechanism 270. After separation, the carriage assembly cooperates with the reader 226 to move the separated EM device into a communicative position. Apparatus 200′ may also include a controller that controls and integrates the operation of the dispenser.
In an alternate embodiment, the apparatus may also be operatively connected and in communication with a data entry device, such as a scanner. The data entry device can scan or read product codes disposed on products or items that are to be monitored. Typically, the data entry device is a bar code scanner or RFID scanner. Other devices that could be used include, without limitation, keyboards, magnetic readers, scales, etc. The data entry device may be in wired or wireless communication with the apparatus.
In one embodiment, the scanning process can function to initiate activation and dispensing of activated EM devices. In another embodiment, the data entry device can also communicate the product code to a controller, external computer system or database (collectively “database”) that may contain stored product code data or information. The database could use the product code to determine if the particular product or item scanned requires monitoring, and whether an EM device should be activated and dispensed. The database could also be used to retrieve any product information such as stored monitoring instructions that may be specific to the product scanned. Any retrieved monitoring instructions could then be communicated to the reader for writing to the EM device. Examples of product codes include, for example, Uniform Parcel Code (UPC), European article numbering (EAN-13) codes, serial shipping container codes (SSCC), global trade item numbers (GTIN) codes, electronic product codes (EPC), and the like. The product codes can be used to track inventory, retrieve monitoring instructions, shipment dates, and the like. In addition, if the item to be monitored possesses a unique identification code, such as an EPC code, the data entry device may be used to communicate the scanned code to a database where it can be stored or processed.
It should be apparent from preceding discussion that the invention provides a rapid and efficient method and apparatus for dispensing activated EM devices. As a result, the use of unactivated, improperly activated, or defective EM devices may be reduced or avoided.
Many modifications and other embodiments of the invention set forth herein will come to mind to one skilled in the art to which the invention pertains having the benefit of the teachings presented in the foregoing descriptions and the associated drawings. Therefore, it is to be understood that the invention is not to be limited to the specific embodiments disclosed and that modifications and other embodiments are intended to be included within the scope of the appended claims. Although specific terms are employed herein, they are used in a generic and descriptive sense only and not for purposes of limitation.